Saturday, July 24, 2010

Reflections on funerals

On Friday I attended a memorial service at our church, for a 60-year-old member who had a horrible motorcycle accident. He left behind a loving wife, four children, and a grandson. I didn't know him well, but recently I had begun to get to know his wife on our church green team. His death was another reminder of the true unexpected nature of life, and the fact that we should never take our loved ones for granted.

When I drove up to the church, the parking lot and all nearby lots in the area were jam-packed. I had to park in a residential neighborhood up the street. I have never seen so many people in our little church. Both the sanctuary and the overflow room with a video feed were standing room only: a wonderful testament to this man and his family.

The NICU turned me into a highly emotional person. I started sniffling during the first hymn, "On Eagle's Wings." Several people spoke about Bill and shared humorous and poignant stories, and our pastor eloquently preached about "where is God" in this type of a death. This man had done loads of work behind the scenes at our church--much of it I had not been aware of. It was a beautiful service.

It made me think about memorable memorial services and funerals I have attended over the years:
  • My maternal grandmother's (when I was 9 or 10, the first I had attended, and to this day, "How Great Thou Art" always makes me choke up)
  • Both grandfathers'
  • My paternal grandmother's (the hardest one of my grandparents, because she lived the longest, I knew her the best, and it was the end of an era...I remember feeling comforted by my large extended family and feeling like I was part of a clan)
  • Many assorted great aunts and uncles, too many to remember
  • Mike's Dad's (one of the saddest ones--and that year was especially difficult, since we lost Mike's dad, my grandma, and my favorite great-aunt, all in the same year)
  • A couple we knew who died while hiking in Silver Falls (the only time I've seen two caskets side by side--Mike and I sang at the service, and Chris was about a year old--later the family told us that he cheered them up because he was waving to them)
  • Quinn (a baby whose parents we had provided support for in the NICU)--again, a beautiful but tragic service
  • Sweet little Zacary (the hardest one of all, he tragically died at age 4-1/2, but I remember his service as being the most personal and painfully beautiful one I can remember)
  • Adrian, the wonderful and loving husband of my friend and former coworker Nancy--another one who died too young (I remember how many people shared personal memories of him, and also how the minister urged everyone to continue to provide support for Nancy months and years down the road)
To me, the best funerals and memorial services are the ones that focus primarily on the lost loved one. I do not believe it is the right time to go overkill on the religious stuff, because many of the mourners probably do not attend church regularly...and much of the time, it is not comforting.

(I was touched yesterday when our retired priest, who was leading the intercessory prayers, actually explained what they were--I felt that was a first for a Catholic priest! In my experience, most priests just assume that everyone will know what is being done.)

It is a time for providing comfort, but not making it be all about God. I suspect that many Christians differ from me on this opinion (and from others of my opinions, now that I think about it!). It is not comforting to talk about God's will, or to say that the person is now in a better place. The best services are deeply personal and full of laughter and tears and personal memories.

Since meeting and becoming close to many parents who have lost children, I have learned the importance of the anniversary of their loved ones' deaths. This doesn't just apply to children who have died, but also parents, spouses, and other close family members.

As I was snuffling through this most recent service, I was comforted by the presence of a baby a few rows in front of me in the overflow room. There's nothing like new life to help me see that life is a circle.

After the memorial service, I was completely spent for the rest of the afternoon. I feel deeply for the family left behind and for the grandson who will have ever-fading memories of his wonderful grandfather.

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